How to remove lien from car?
September 19, 2019 1:18 PM   Subscribe

So, about 5 years ago I bought a used car from a dealership, but I didn't notice that it had a lien still on it until much later. Attempts to deal with it have been unsuccessful.

I bought a car used about 5 years ago, and at the time of purchase, the dealer said that they would file the paperwork with the DMV and have the title mailed to me. Due to the fact that I also moved houses shortly afterwards, I overlooked the fact that I never received the title for quite a while. Like, two years. I actually realized that I didn't have the title when renewing my registration, and I saw that the registration had a lien holder listed on it.

So, first off, I contacted the dealership and let them know that I never got the title. They said that I should contact the DMV (CA). The DMV said that they couldn't give me the title because I had a lien holder listed on it. The lien holder is listed as Wells Fargo, whom I tried to contact, but they say they can't help me without an account number. I once again contacted the dealership, who says they no longer have any records regarding the sale that show the lien holder or previous owner info. I tried doing a title history report, and it actually does not show any current lien holders on the title, but it does come with a note that "Lien data does not include information on all motor vehicles in the United States because not all lien holders provide lien information to ADD's data provider."

So, that's where I am at. DMV won't give me title, because Wells Fargo won't release a lien that it won't even acknowledge it holds, on a lien that may not even exist. I don't even know how to proceed from here. Luckily, the car is in great shape and I have no intention of getting rid of it any time soon, so this issue is not super urgent. Does anyone have any experience with situations like this? Are there any services I could use to try and get the lien removed?
posted by Hackworth to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I went through this but it was a small credit union and not a large bank. They were able to send me a letter that said they had no further interest in the car and the state accepted that and gave me a clear title. I would ask the DMV if you have any options other than getting a large corporation to pay attention to someone who is not their customer. I am guessing they won't have any options for you, so the next step would be to push harder on the bank. Go in person and explain the issue to a personal banker. Provide them the VIN and ask that they give you this letter. Be polite and patient but insistent that they need to help you. If they refuse, ask for their manager and keep going up the chain until someone can help you. You may need to go to the executive complaints department, but don't start there.
posted by soelo at 1:28 PM on September 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

I would lean on the dealership who never provided you with the title. That's on them, and they didn't do it. Ask them how they can make you whole here.
posted by zippy at 2:11 PM on September 19, 2019

I recently had to replace a title for the car I’m trying to junk, and the title had a lien on it from the lender through which I financed the car (Nissan Motors). I was able to get a lien release from, but visiting there, it doesn’t have Wells Fargo as one of its participating lenders.

From what you’ve described, it sounds to me like the previous owner traded in the car, but someone never followed through on their paperwork to either get a clean title (removing the lien from the previous owner) or provide a lien release to the dealership, who then passed the problem onto you by selling you a car and not providing you with a clean title.

I would definitely second hassling both the dealer and the bank to figure this out. They are required to have this paperwork. If you don’t have it, it’s a big pain to even junk the car because even junkers will want a clean title. (You can probably find The Wolf to get rid of your apparently sketchy no-title car, but it’s still a pain.) The bank should be able to provide you with a lien release saying that you bear no financial obligation to them. I’d start with the department that handles auto loans and go from there. Make sure you have proof of ownership and registration with you.

Worst case scenario, I’d sell the car back to the dealership and buy a different car with a clean title, ideally from somewhere else, because their not handling such a basic step and then trying to blow you off is bullshit. Until they can give you a title, it’s THEIR car. They need to fix this.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:04 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, when I ordered a duplicate of my title (MN), I was able to do so at the DMV, and it listed the lien on the title. I should think you would at least be able to get a similar document in CA, and that might be worth exploring further. Maybe in CA you can’t, but that seems like a catch-22 that a lot of people would run into, so you’d think there would be a bureaucratic solution in place.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:13 PM on September 19, 2019

If a dealership sold me a car without clear title and would not resolve it, I'd contact a lwayer regarding fraud. i think it would prompt the dealer to make some progress. What a drag; good luck.
posted by theora55 at 9:07 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for asking a question that I was going to get around to asking eventually. I have a 10+ year old car that I bought new with a cashier's check because I thought that would be faster than a personal check. The dealer assumed it was a car loan and put my credit union as a lien holder. The dealer claims "changed computer systems" they can't do anything. The credit union of course has no records of any sort of lien. So I have a car that the DMV thinks is owned by the bank.

I'm hoping to find the right magical document procedure and finally get this sorted out. Hope us both.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:59 AM on September 21, 2019

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